Creative Writing in Extraordinary Times – taking an unexpected view.
We live in times of great change, and of great awareness of that change.
2020: no airplanes in the sky, nearly empty streets, birds singing where we never heard them before, faces behind windows looking out, people turning their heads away from each other when they meet.
2021: hopes of moving on or getting “back to normal”, open-close, stop-go, confusions, memories of all kinds, changing ideas of how we might live our lives, but few ways to make those changes.
Doors are still closed on many of the things we were used to, but curious new doors are opening. Covid 19 began a process of alteration that is seemingly open-ended. Faced with the need to develop new ideas, humans are doing just that, and the world goes on changing.
What will we remember about these times? How will our familiar ways of life have been altered? What will we want to keep? What will we wish to/choose to forget?
The Indian writer and social activist Arundhati Roy describes what is happening to the world as a rupture. She asks if it might be possible to …walk through it lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. This is a time of great richness for writers who source their inspirations from the world around them.
Although lockdown/quarantine/confinement meant that we were limited in the places we can go and the people we can talk with in real life, we were not isolated. We found ways to connect with other people in virtual space.
In our shared imagination we could have access to the farthest corners of the web-connected world. The world, surprisingly, became a place of collective dreaming.
Times Shifting brought together young writers living in very different places to explore corners of the living history of our time. By observing, recording, noting, collecting, thinking and writing about what is currently happening in their changed and changing individual worlds, and then by sharing the results of all of this, we hope to create a collective and creative archive of this time. In future years perhaps it can be a resource to help understand what has been happening in these times. Using an exploration of creative writing, we allow young citizens to develop their creative and idiosyncratic take on their changing world.
Truth is stranger than fiction they say! Just look around the world and see how true this really is. And here’s the thing! – it doesn’t stop with the pandemic, we in the global minority world have become alive to change as never before. We have lessons to learn.
Attempting the unexpected
Times Shifting began as a unique, shared, and mentored archive of events happening in the now of a small community of ordinary lives connected across the world. This archive of living history then became a source for dreaming about how the world of today might be seen in the future. The Times Shifters were each commissioned to write a piece of historical fiction – looking from the future back at this time when all our lives were changing. This piece of somersaulting thinking produced some beautiful and expertly imagined visions.
Collecting, Connecting, Active thinking
Times Shifters engaged in collecting – sending their senses out into the world to gather everyday information from as many corners of life as they can find. They connected with others on a weekly basis who were doing the same thing. This was a process of active thinking then became a primary resource for their creativity.
It is very much in the spirit of the young Walter Scott as he sought to understand the changing world of post-Jacobite Scotland, reaching at once into the far, near-mythical past and into the future of a country rebuilding itself before his eyes. His early explorations laid the ground for a unique life of thinking and writing.
After Times Shifting: Leaving Traces
It was important that Times Shifting leave a trace, not only because focus on a creative goal is highly satisfying, but also because history is moving on at pace and it is important to capture and celebrate creative responses to the historical moment.
An anthology of writings from Times Shifting was published in March 2021. Submissions for the anthology were mentored by Elizabeth Ferretti and each of the contributors also submitted a reflective introduction, observing their writing during lockdown. No restrictions were placed on the genre or format of the writing.
The results of the collective thinking and creating have been saved and our plan is to create a way of presenting this collective vision of history.
To let our minds go questioning afar,
Not to fear what we don’t understand,
And make our own creations.Judith Steel
Times Shifting is a project of the Imagining History Programme UK, under the umbrella of The Young Walter Scott Prize. It arose out a discussion between Alan Caig Wilson, (Director of YWSP/IHUK), and Dr Dina Gusejnova, (Assistant Professor in International History at the London School of Economics and History Advisor for IHUK). It was then guided and shaped in collaboration with Elizabeth Ferretti, (writer, journalist and Development Associate for IHUK), and Matilda Wormwood (independent curator, podcaster and bookseller)